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Wholesale Observations: Rafe Semmes goes to the Portland in the west
Rafe Semmes
Rafe Semmes

As stated earlier, my wife and I have both been fortunate to have had the opportunity to see a wide variety of places across this country by going to conferences, that we would otherwise never have had the chance to see. From Asheville N.C., to Albuquerque N.M., Boston to Miami, New York to New Orleans, San Francisco to St Louis, among many others, it has been a marvelous ride.

We have also been lucky enough to get to see both Portlands – Oregon and Maine. Very different cities, very different areas of the country. And also got to see some very interesting nearby places on side trips that we took on our own dime.

Since we have to pay our own expenses when accompanying the other on a company trip, we of course have to look to see how we can do that. One time we drove down to the Jacksonville, Fla., airport instead of flying out of Savannah, because the fare was significantly less expensive there for some reason.

This trip, we drove to Atlanta first, and flew to Portland from there, because the cost of Anne’s ticket was literally half by flying out of Atlanta instead of Savannah, and my getting round-trip mileage to Atlanta was less than the cost of the Savannah-to-Atlanta leg. Go figure!

Portland, Oregon is much larger than Portland, Maine, and the hotel where my conference was held was right downtown, in walking distance of many interesting places. One thing I remember was the trustee from Portland hosting that year’s event telling us, at the end of that sunny fourday conference, that we had enjoyed one of only two sunny weeks they normally saw each year! (It apparently rains a lot there.)

The Trustee who hosted an earlier one in Albuquerque, New Mexico, you may remember, told us the major rainstorm we endured at the dinner on the mesa outside of town was one of the only two rainstorms they saw each year. Different landscape, different weather, different parts of the country.

Another interesting thing was that our hotel room had a view to the north where we could see Mount St. Helens.

This was before it blew up. Anne was able to take a tour up there to see it, which she will always remember. Three local places of interest in Portland to me were the aptly-named “Bishop’s House,” Powell’s Bookstore, and a three-story building that housed a wagon museum, of all things.

There were many restaurants downtown, and the Bishop’s House was one we settled on for dinner one night.

It had apparently actually been the home of a Catholic bishop, at some point in the past, but was now a Lebanese restaurant. We had a lamb and rice dish, and it was delicious!

When we got home, I had to tell a friend of ours, a wonderful old Lebanese Catholic lady with whom I worked for many years at the old Savannah Little Theatre Snack Bar, about that dinner. “Of course it was good food!” she told me. “My mama used to fix food like that too!”

Powell’s Bookstore was so big, it took up an entire city block, and had the widest selection of authors I had ever seen. I thought to check out their claim to carrying “every author there was” by looking for a volume by an obscure metaphysical writer I had run across years ago, thinking surely they would not have it.

They not only had the volume I was looking for, they had two more of his I had not even heard of! This was all before the internet made searching for rare and out-of-print books much easier. I was astonished.

I have since found two similar bookstores: Haslam’s in St. Petersburg, Fla., and The Tattered Cover in Denver. Both took up about an equal footprint; both had equally impressive inventories. And I came away from both of them with several very interesting selections, too.

The Wagon Museum was something I happened across while walking around, and was so intrigued by the name I had to go see what it was about. Its three floors held samples of many horse-drawn wagons common in the days before the automobile was invented, many of which I didn’t realize existed.

The Conestaga wagon was of course familiar to me because of the many stories I had read of settlers crossing the Great Plains in their push west, in the late 1800’s, in those canvas-covered wagons which carried people and their few possessions.

I also knew about “milk wagons,” which once were common in Savannah, GA, in the years before I was born there. But I also saw fire-wagons, trash pick-up wagons, ice-delivery wagons, and horsedrawn hearses. What an interesting display of history! They spoke to me in a far different way, in person, than they would have from simply seeing pictures in a history book.

Next up: Our side trip to Oregon’s only national park, Crater Lake!

Rafe Semmes is a local writer.

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